The future of Ferrari under the Marlboro man

  • Ferrari names former tobacco executive Louis Camilleri to be its new CEO.
  • Camilleri replaces Sergio Marchionne, who stepped down following complications after a recent surgery.
  • Marchionne is the architect of Ferrari's success as a public company and its strategy of expanding production and models.
  • Ferrari shares fall on the news.

The Marlboro man has taken the reins of the Prancing Horse.

Ferrari on Saturday announced Louis Camilleri, the former chairman and CEO of Philip Morris International and a current Ferrari board member, will be the company’s new CEO. The news followed the surprise announcement that current CEO and chairman Sergio Marchionne was “unable to return to work" following health issues.

Shareholders are clearly rattled by the change, since Marchionne was the architect of the company’s success as a public company and its strategy of expanding production and models. The share price is down more than 4 percent in trading midday Monday. The decline puts it on pace for its worst day since Sept. 7, 2017, when it lost more than 7 percent.

And there are already grumblings among Ferrari investors, dealers and collectors about whether a former consumer-goods chief truly has the car expertise and specialized knowledge about the most storied and vaunted name in autos and racing to maintain its exclusivity.

"Ferrari is all about emotions, style, success and drama,” said Marcel Massini, a Ferrari historian and respected advisor to Ferrari collectors. “Buyers want a leader to identify with and consequently a true and passionate car guy would certainly be a big help."

Yet Camilleri may be just what Ferrari needs right now.

Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive Officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is viewed next to a Ferrari after ringing the Closing Bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on October 13, 2014 in New York City.
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Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive Officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is viewed next to a Ferrari after ringing the Closing Bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on October 13, 2014 in New York City.

Friends and colleagues of Camilleri, who requested anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak for him or the company, say he is passionate about the Ferrari brand and its racing DNA. Camilleri once ran Marlboro, which is a sponsor of Ferrari’s Formula One team. He has been attending races and meeting with Ferrari team members for years. Friends also say Camilleri has an impressive collection of Ferraris himself.

“He is a car guy,” said one friend and colleague. “He didn’t run a car company — but he is a car guy. And he values the Ferrari brand and believes in it.”

Camilleri may also bring more focus to Ferrari’s leadership. Marchionne ran both Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari. Camilleri will focus solely on Ferrari. Former colleagues say Camilleri is a dogged worker who has a talent for running large global organizations. They say that if he makes any changes, it will be in improving the governance, structure and processes behind a company that is still adapting to life as a publicly traded stock.

“Louis is one of the best at delegating, putting good people in place and running a big organization,” said one friend, who wished to remain anonymous. “He will maybe bring more discipline.”

What’s more, Camilleri has the global panache that customers and dealers expect from the face of Ferrari. Born to a Maltese family in Egypt, he went to boarding school in Britain and graduated from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He speaks fluent Italian, French and English and was reportedly dating supermodel Naomi Campbell.

What’s more, Camilleri is an expert at companies in transition. He helped guide Philip Morris away from traditional cigarettes and more toward e-cigarettes. Similarly, Ferrari is moving into SUVs and hybrid engines to complement its roaring V-12 and V-8 engine tradition.

In short, the man who has helped Philip Morris shift to e-cigarettes may be the right man to help move Ferrari's shift to e-cars.